Russia targets Bill Browder in Magnitsky poisoning theory

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16.11.2018

Inside Europe: The EU and Magnitsky sanctions

Moscow has opened a fresh criminal probe against British financier Bill Browder. But the Kremlin critic told DW that the probe represents just another "spike in these Russian games" ahead of a new Magnitsky Act.

Russian prosecutors announced on Monday a criminal investigation against British financier Bill Browder, saying that they suspect him of being behind the death-in-custody of Russian anti-corruption lawyer  Sergei Magnitsky.

Browder, who has already been sentenced in absentia to nine years in a labor camp by a Russian court, called the latest allegations that he poisoned his own friend and lawyer "Kafka-esque to say the least."

"We see a spike in these Russian games every time there is an attempt to go forward with a new Magnitsky Act anywhere in the world," Browder told DW.

Read more: EU paves way for Russia sanctions over chemical weapons

'EU will go ahead' with Magnitsky

Ten years ago, Magnitsky was arrested on charges of creating illegal tax evasion schemes. He subsequently died in pre-trial detention. Months before his death, Magnitsky had accused interior ministry officials of organizing a $230 million (€201 million) tax scam. He then found himself charged with the same crime he claimed to have uncovered. 

Browder vowed at the time to punish those involved in the killing. He has since referred to himself as President Vladimir Putin's "Enemy Number One," because of his work shepherding through the Magnitsky Act in the US, a series of financial sanctions targeting officials deemed responsible for the lawyer's death. Browder has been pushing for more countries, including the EU, to adopt the legislation.

"The Dutch have bowed to the Kremlin by proposing to take the name Magnitsky out of the act," Browder told DW. "But I am confident the EU will go ahead with its own act."

Read more: Poisoned Pussy Riot activist: The Kremlin was sending a 'warning sign'

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Born in St.Petersburg in 1952, Putin signed up with the Soviet intelligence agency the KGB right out of law school in 1975. His first assignment was to monitor foreign nationals and consulate employees in his home city, then called Leningrad. He was then assigned to Dresden, East Germany. He reportedly burned hundreds of KGB files after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Victory

In March 2018, Vladimir Putin was elected to his fourth term as president. Because the presidential term has been extended, this means Putin will be in power for the next six years. However, the election was marred by a lack of opposition to the incumbent, as well as allegations of vote tampering and ballot-stuffing.

'Military-grade toxin'

Nikolai Atmonyev, an advisor to the Prosecutor General's Office, claimed that Browder might have forced Magnitsky to commit perjury and therefore was interested in seeing him dead.

"The Russian General Prosecutor's Office has concluded that it was Browder who was interested in Magnitsky's death," Atmonyev told reporters on Monday.

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Mikhail Alexandrov, from the Prosecutor General's Office, said a criminal case had been opened into a poisoning with a military-grade substance of Octai Gasanov, Valery Kurochkin, and Sergei Korobeinikov, three people described as Browder's associates, reported Russian state news agency TASS.

Read more: Opinion: The Skripal poisoning's smoking gun

Russian hunt for Browder

Alexandrov said that it was "highly likely" that Magnitsky, who they said displayed similar symptoms, was poisoned as well.

"Gasanov, Kurochkin and Magnitsky had precisely these symptoms in their final moments before death. Traces of toxic aluminum compounds were also found in Korobeinikov's liver," reported TASS.

Browder faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Atmonyev said, adding that Moscow would put him on the international wanted list "in the near future."

"The Russians have been trying to use Interpol to arrest me since 2013," Browder told DW. "From the legal standpoint, I feel safe in the UK. But if the Russians want to poison me, they will poison me."

Read more: Is the EU kowtowing to the Kremlin on Magnitsky sanctions?

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ls,kw/msh (AP, dpa)

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